One thing I knew for certain after our dog, Kashá, died: We needed a puppy. Not a puppy to replace our dog–because there is no replacing her–but a puppy to help fill the gaping hole left behind, and to staunch the tears. A puppy to remember that life goes on after loss and that an open heart can love again.
At first we considered a Boxer because we need a watch dog, and Kashá was the best. When she was on duty no one came into our yard without being cleared by one of us. This area of Costa Rica… well, actually, all of Costa Rica is quite dangerous. Once, while sitting in a small Italian restaurant in San José, I watched a woman come out of her place of work, pop open the trunk of her car and inspect the contents before closing it again and driving off. As I sipped my glass of wine I realized she was probably looking for a stow-away, someone she might inadvertently take inside her barred and gated compound where he would then rob her and her family, or worse. The papers and local news are full of these sorts of stories. Here in Talamanca, we do not have walls around our house, or even bars on our windows. We have dogs. They are our security system and are well worth the cost of dog food and veterinary care. And we love them.
We looked in the paper for Boxers and found a couple of ads, but when the owners sent pictures the dogs were too stocky for our taste, resembling more bulldog than the leggy Boxers we have seen. We also read that they tend to be aggressive toward other dogs of the same sex. That ruled out a male, as we have two older males on the place already. They had a female, but by then I’d found an ad for Basenjis.
I have always wanted a Basenji. They are odd ducks of the dog world (excuse the mixed metaphor), more like cats than dogs, really. Descended from pariah dogs of Africa, they have been man’s companions since ancient times. Originally from the Congo, they were used by Pygmy tribesmen as hunting partners, flushing out small game into waiting nets. They also appear in murals from the time of the Pharaohs. Some argue the god Anubis is actually a Basenji. In any event, Basenjis are an old breed.
We went to see them on a Saturday morning and I was completely smitten. The breeders, the only breeders in Costa Rica, had four pups–three males and one female– and both parents for us to see. The owner let the mother out of her pen so she could take the little guys for an exercise run. Resembling an inflated balloon that’s been released, she ran in wild circles with the four pups hard on her heels. By the time our visit was over we’d picked out two. But Basenjis don’t bark, so what kind of watch dog would this make?. They make plenty of other noises, I’ve found out since, but barking isn’t one of them.
The next day, Sunday, we went to the animal adoption fair held every week at a central park in San José. The organization, started by an incredible American woman, Karin Anne Hoad, is called Asociación Animales de Asis and rescues street dogs of Costa Rica. They do not put down any of the animals they rescue and have developed a relationship with the veterinary school to get all the animals spayed or neutered. Volunteers help socialize the dogs and they have found homes for dogs with cancer, dogs with only three legs, and, most incredibly, a dog that had most of the top of his head chopped off with a machete. The dog was actually at the park with his new owners the day we were there. His head is a bit scarred, but he is a very happy, functional dog.
There were quite a few older dogs there, and I was attracted to a female Shar Pei mix. She was tough looking with broad scars across her chest. I asked about her and was told she was found wandering the streets in a badass section of San José. I watched her for awhile; she seemed friendly and eager with each person who came by her cage. I was about to go over and visit her when one of the volunteers set down a crate of puppies next to me. There were two pups, one black with a long tail and another, tan in color, leggy, and droopy ears. Her face looked very Lab-like and I asked if I could look at her. I picked her up, and that’s the one we arranged to take home the next day. I was going to name her for the park where we got her: Sabana, and call her Saba for short, but then remembered that there is a feminine hygiene napkin by that name. So… she became Hale (pronounced Holly)
They tried to get me to take the Shar Pei, but, feeling a bit like the little old man and the little old woman in Wanda Gag’s old children’s book Millions of Cats, I decided that three puppies was enough. I was also concerned that the Shar Pei might be TOO friendly and we needed a watch dog.
Monday morning we picked up the street dog and one of the Basenjis. The little female we named Bibi, African for Lady.
I’d had a sleepless night the night before, wondering what I had got us into. Maybe the Basenjis were a mistake. Maybe they were too hard to handle. I’d read about them online the night before. Fox like in appearance, Basenjis grow to be about 16-20 inches tall and are quite independent thinkers. Smart and with “the attention span of a gnat,” as one Web site put it, they can be a handful in the wrong household. Anyone looking for a dog that immediately follows commands ought not even look at a Basenji. They tend to be somewhat like terriers, I think: out to please themselves. The best match, according to everything I read, is someone who has had a lot of dogs, is not Alpha-challenged, and is ready to find a fun way for the dog to learn. The best technique with them, I read, is to ignore them. They thrive on affection and cannot stand being given the cold shoulder.
By Monday morning I figured I could handle one. Later, if they weren’t all sold, and I liked the dog, I reasoned, I’d get the other. Alan and I drove home with two puppies and all their gear.
A tired Basenji is a good Basenji, is one of the cardinal pieces of advice I’ve gotten.
I’m giving it my best shot!